Obama and MCain flunked the first debate

At least the Americans hold the things. Our leaders duck them pleading “ but we have Prime Minister’s Questions.” The first presidential debate lived down to the time honoured reputation of these events and was a dud. Pity the poor US media who have to analyse every flicker. Even so I still don’t know who won. This was slightly surprising, given the current atmosphere of crisis and the excitement of the earlier campaign. Even with America teetering on the brink of financial breakdown Obama and McCain failed to inspire. Neither would admit that taxes are going up and that public spending must come down.

McCain was far more aggressive and arrogant and repeated time after time “Senator Obama doesn’t understand, he doesn’t quite get it.” He sounded like a wartime President who wouldn’t know what to do if he didn’t have a war to fight. Obama was constrained by a line defined by the Stars and Stripes beyond which he dare not cross. No space in this format for soaring change rhetoric when you get down to the ishoos. In the battle over who could be more mawkish about the military both were wearing dead soldier’s bracelets like medieval maidens sporting favours. In the patriot game there was no contest if you like that sort of thing. For me that was where the culture gap between us and them yawned most widely. To the NY Times, it was the clash of generations. McCain banged on about “looking after the veterans” so much you would have thought he’d just demobbed three million men at the end of WW2. The huge issue of Iraq shrunk to a dispute over whether Obama would impose a strict timetable for withdrawal or not. McCain obviously thought the success of the surge was his killer point. Obama seemed to acknowledge that by diverting to get tough on Afghanistan, even if it meant treading on Pakistan. “If we have bin Laden in our sights and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act then we should take him out. “ On Russia, McCain had the soundbite; “ I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters, K,G and B.” During the Cold War, language like that would have caused uproar. McCain’s summing up was cringe-,making ( those vets again) and arrogant ( his endless “experience” i.e. lots of visits to meet the troops), and fluffy, (he called it a “fiscal” not a financial crisis and referred to “Qadari” of Pakistan when he meant President “Zadari”). Obama’s wind up began to lift the debate but too late. “We have challenges with China that owns trillions of our debt and we have weakened our capacity to project our power across the world.”

Who won the debate? Frankly, with this sort of quality, who cares? But I agree, McCain was kinda weird. Next time, we can only hope they do more than limit damage.

  • Pete Baker

    “Who won the debate?”, Brian?

    I’d go with the properly sceptical Micky Kaus.

    Before I get spun, I’d say: small, Pyrrhic victory for McCain. McCain wanted to make Obama seem naive and inexperienced. He did about 40% of that. Obama wanted to make McCain seem dangerously ambitious, bellicose and hotheaded. He did 0% of that.

    And Kaus has a great line on the “poor US media”..

    Of course the MSM “refs” like to think McCain’s “working the refs,” because that implies they’re worth working–that their refereeing role is still all-important (as opposed to their role as, say, a totemic focus of political, class and cultural resentment!)…

  • Greenflag

    Obama ‘won’ the debate such that it was hands down . Never mind Mickey Kaus .The ‘popular’ votes after the debate already confirm margins of 3 to 1 to 5 to 3 . I thought Obama went easy a few times on the Senator who I thought looked his age and on a few occassions slipped into ‘rambling’ . When asked to sum up his objectives Obama was succinct clear and precise (at least from a debate perspective ) Senator McCain did’nt even answer the question but rabbited on . I was expecting McCain to be a decisive ‘winner’ in the foreign policy debate but he was’nt . He sounded like a cold warrior from the mid 20th century cast adrift in a fast changing world . On the economy McCain came across as just not being with ‘it’ in terms of the real lives being lived by Americans this past decade and more .McCain’s reference to Irish taxation rates was a missed opportunity for Obama – He could have countered with how nobody in Irelands fears ‘bankruptcy’ just because they need a serious medical operation !

    The space between the contending views for the future of the USA should widen considerably next week when in the right corner the ‘rapturous ‘ moose hunting , Sarah Palin gets to debate with ‘Irish ‘ Catholic Joe Biden in the left corner . I’m betting on a Biden ‘win’ but he has to be careful . Must’nt reduce the lady to tears or embarass her too much . The killa from wasilla should have lost more shine by debate time .

    But at least it should prove entertaining if not enlightening 🙂

  • susan

    Pete Baker, in editing Mickey Kaus the way you have, you put your own “spin” on his words, and in your edited excerpt Kaus’s choice of the description “small, Pyrric victory,” rather than “small victory” makes zero sense.

    What Kaus actually wrote:

    Debate #1: Before I get spun, I’d say: small, Pyrrhic victory for McCain. McCain wanted to make Obama seem naive and inexperienced. He did about 40% of that. Obama wanted to make McCain seem dangerously ambitious, bellicose and hotheaded. He did 0% of that. But a) the foreign policy stuff came after a long period on the economy, where McCain seemed a bit frenetic and Obama had the upper hand; and b) Obama didn’t seem non-credible, which may be enough to carry him through given all the other advantages he has. ..”

    Kaus’s comments in their entirety shed some useful light on the somewhat surprisingly large advantage given to Obama today in polls of those who watched the debate — (51% to 38% overall feeling Obama was the victor, 59% to 31% of women crediting Obama with a win, and an even split between men)

  • RepublicanStones

    I’d agree with Greenie. Obama had clear cut initiatives, was precise and wasn’t guilty of the broad rhetoric that McCain slipped into with regularity.

    “Our spending is out of control”

    “I’m a maverick”

    “They call me the Sheriff” (Particularly cringe worthy)

    The serve and return serve of figures such as 800billion, 932 million was fun.

    Have to admit I fell asleep at about 70 mins in.

  • Pete Baker


    “Pete Baker, in editing Mickey Kaus the way you have, you put your own “spin” on his words,”

    Sorry but you’ve misinterpreted my quoting of Kaus.

    I’ve linked to the entire post so that the whole thing can be read – there’s a long list of “Buts”.

    I thought the use of Pyrric in the quote was self-explanatory?

  • Dewi

    Seems conclusive Obama victory just needs to avoid disaster now methinks – Ohio only real concern – would be much happier if Obama started to gain there.

  • Dewi

    And GF Biden mustn’t be soft on Palin –
    Watch Cafferty

  • susan

    Pete, it’s a bit out of character for you to find much of anything “self-explanatory,” but I will struggle to take your word for it.
    [Commences struggling.]

    [Still struggling.} ;o)

    Folks, this is interesting! I just checked the still ongoing online readers’ poll at the pro-business, conservative Wall Street Journal, and thus far, readers are tipping Obama as the winner of the debate by a sixteen point advantage.


  • IRIA

    While I don’t think it was an easy victory for Obama, I’m not sure how anybody could say it was a win for McCain.

    McCain didn’t even make eye contace with Obama! The guy needs anger management lessons, pronto.

    Where are the Sarah Palin lovers? She couldn’t even get on the tv after the debate, like Biden, to spin it. They won’t even let her on tv! Instead, she was at the…ahem..Irish Pub in Philadelphia. Right, the perfect place for a looney Evangelical.

  • Cahal

    Chirs Matthews on MSNBC hit the nail on the head, saying McCain was troll like and calling him an old grumpy codger. Every time I see McCain talking I feel sorry for him. I don’t want somebody I pity spending my tax dollars.

  • Brian Walker

    There are three types of winning these debates.
    One, the candidate I personlly prefer (nobody cares about 1 except me).
    Two, who is spun better in the highly partisan rebuttual room behind the debating hall. And three, who performed better regardless of your own opinion of the issues. I slightly fluffed all three.

    But on reflection, on 1. Obama pulled away with a few decent thoughts towards the end. He’s nicer, seems self-possessed although thin on policy (so was Kennedy in 1960; Nixon won on radio, so they say) – and in this debate, surprisingly thin on vision. McCain was right about the surge but enjoys warfare and confrontation far too much and is woefully sophisticated. So was Harry Truman but he didn’t wallow in the military, although an officer in France in WW1. Eisenhower never talked like McCain although a Supreme Commander and wore his generalship lightly. 2. Most of the MSM and I assume, the blogsphere is pro-Democrat, though even the Wall St Journal gave Obama the edge. A lot of these verdicts are pure spin in the rebuttal room. Take the verdicts with a large pinch of salt even though they are ( still, I’d say Pete) influential. On 3, I still stick to my view that objectively neither was a real winner but neither damaged his cause.

  • Brian Walker

    PS I meant to say McCain was woefully UNsophisticated but clicked on submit rather than preview..aaghhh..

  • Dewi

    “Woefully sophisticated?” Now that’s an interesting concept…I’ve actually met a Texan who said that Mccain wasn’t for him – he sneered “He’s a radical”

  • Dewi

    I’m sorry ! – I thought “woefully sophisticated” was pretty cool !!!

  • USA

    While I will vote for Obama (I voted for Hillary in the primaries) I felt McCain edged the debate last night by playing to American patriotism / nationalism.
    I felt Obama did not come “out to the pocket” and I hope we see him do more of this in the next debate. I guess last night he had to be very careful not to appear unpatriotic. He was already making a good speech in NC this morning, attacking McCains debate performance – he should have done that last night.
    A tight fought and boring 1-0 win for McCain, but Obama deserved a draw.
    Not a campaign changing event by any measure.

  • Greenflag

    iria ,

    ‘McCain didn’t even make eye contace with Obama! The guy needs anger management lessons, ‘

    I thought that was weird . Might have been part of a subliminal Karl Rove ‘derivative’ plot to appeal to the ‘racist’ vote in television land . Kind of like if I don’t look the enemy in the eye then he’s not there -not a human being -worthless etc etc . Not the John McCain we know but a Karl Rovian spun stand in to appeal to the aged boomers and who can’t get their heads around the possibility of an African American as President .

    On the other hand I’m more inclined to believe that McCain was miffed about Obama not agreeing to a ‘postponement ‘ of the debate and thus discomfiting McCain’s national ‘grandstanding effort to look ‘Presidential ‘ . The ‘grandstanding ‘ backfired and in the final analysis Obama ended up looking more ‘presidential’

    I believe there are another 2 scheduled . Perhaps they could cancel one and give a second one to Sarah Palin & Joe Biden ?

    Sarah would no doubt ‘benefit’ from the experience;)

  • Ann

    I watched it for as long as I could keep my eyes open and obama was definitely the winner in my view. I think he is physically incapable of giving a bad speech, he puts his whole self in to his speeches and interviews. McCain came accross as tired with not enough energy for the debate never mind the job he hopes to get. Putting himself forward as a maverick..it didn’t work imo.

    It was dull and boring, I’d hoped for a little more gusto from both men. Perhaps we are spoilt here where we see brawls in the halls, but a little fighting spirit in the debate would have been welcome, to make one sit up and listen…..

    The joke about reaching that far left wasn’t funny. I’d been rooting for McCain but as the campaign has gone on he’s even more tired and battered than Hillary was.

  • dewi

    Brian – I wish you hadn’t confessed to that “woefully sophisticated” thing. I think it has wonderful possibilities as a slogan…. Do you mind if Plaid use it?

  • Pete Baker


    On the three specific points about winning

    There are three types of winning these debates.

    One, the candidate I personally prefer (nobody cares about 1 except me).
    Two, who is spun better in the highly partisan rebuttual room behind the debating hall. And three, who performed better regardless of your own opinion of the issues.

    I’d agree entirely [spun ‘more’ rather than ‘better’ perhaps]. And I’d also agree that those verdicts are still, to some extent, influential.

    It’s why I’m discounting 99% of what’s being written about this campaign online and off.

    Most of those writing about it haven’t gotten beyond point 1. They’re ignoring point 2 and they wouldn’t recognise point 3 at all – which is the only point that I, personally, care about.

  • latcheeco

    Foreign Policy debate was a draw, so Obama won. Tina Fey on SNL should further ruin Palin’s credibility tonight after Katie Couric ate her lunch this week.

  • There appears to be an assumption here that Obama won on the issue of the economy. I beg to disagree. Obama spoke about tax cuts for the middle classes. There will be no tax cuts for the middle classes. Obama has already made promises to the tune of 1 billion dollars. Now add 700-1000 billion dollars for the bail out. How would he finance the tax cuts? When McCain suggested that a freeze on public expenditure (excluding military) would be a good starting point Obama begged to disagree. He funked the issue of spending cuts. If he is elected president where will Obama find 2000 billion dollars? He also got caught out on earmarks. In my view McCain won the debate not alone on the economy but on foreign policy.

  • Dewi

    Looking a touch better for Obama From a republican site also

  • USA

    Yes it was supposed to be a foreign policy focused debate which McCain was expected to perform well on.
    In this context a close run defeat for Obama does not change things much at all.

  • Comrade Stalin

    There will be no tax cuts for the middle classes.

    I distinctly heard Obama in that debate saying that 95% of the population will either get a tax cut or no tax increase. Was he lying ?

  • Dewi

    Strange – I’ve now managed to watch it all twice and I know I might be biased but Obama surely won by miles. Game over I think.

  • susan

    Comrade Stalin — to answer your question, no, Obama wasn’t lying. The attached side by side comparison chart of the effect of the candidates’ tax plans on low, middle and high income households — prepared by the Tax Policy Center and carried in the Washington Post — was very useful to me. The contrasts are most meaningful in households at the top .1 — not 1% but .1% –of the income scale, and households earning less than US $ 66k:


    One caveat, both plans were devised before the emergency bailout.

  • Greenflag

    dewi ,

    ‘Game over I think.’

    Indeed it is . Whatever hesitations many Americans may have had about Obama’s lack of experience they have now largely shook them off . Race may be a factor for a section of the redneck community but they’ll stay at home rather than come out for McCain.

    The coffin lid on McCains campaign should be nailed down during the VP debate later this week when it should become obvious to that Mrs Palin was plucked from obscurity in Alaska only to be returned there in November . Mr McCain’s judgement in picking her as VP and potentially President will be mercilessly ripped apart by the media .

    Under other circumstances perhaps if she had been Alaskan Governor for a few terms and shrugged off her wacky ‘religion’ she might well have become a viable VP . She did after all ‘clean house’ with the Republican good ole boys in Alaska .

    Ah well perhaps she’ll remember the words of that old American favourite

    No matter how far you ramble -there’s no place like Nome

    North to Alaska North the ‘rush ‘ is o’er methinks .

    Where’s Bfb -these days ? Keeping a low profile eh 😉

  • BfB

    Ya, generational for sure. The generation who made this country what it is (ya, better than your urpeen shithole, no matter what you may think), and the generation who wants to tear it down, and give it away….
    McCain/Palin ABU!!!

    Obama my Irish ass.

  • BfB

    Game over I think.

    In recent memory, every presidential debate eventually distills down into a few catchphrases. Al Gore became known for his sighs and love of lockboxes. John Kerry actually served in Vietnam. Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy.

    Obama’s a vacuous dickhead, plain and simple.

    Barack Obama has a bracelet, too.

    That inartful comeback will likely filter out through the political ether in the days ahead. What might not filter through our partisan press is that shortly after pointing out that, like John McCain, he sports a bracelet given to him by a military family, Barack Obama had to stop and look down find out the name of the soldier he’s honoring.

    That soldier is Ryan David Jopek. Barack Obama doesn’t appear to have known that fact.

  • BfB

    You heard it here first.

    Joe Bidens’ ass mysteriously catches on fire on the ‘campaign’ (read ‘drinking and back rubs’) trail, and a nationwide search turns up That Old Hen Hillary(patent pending) to take the reigns. Don’t worry female, neolib ,MBA candidates(ha! oxymoron!), Oprah (genuflect) has given her permission. “While it is rare that a VP candidate gets dropped, it’s not completely impossible,” said Ken Robertson, politicalbetting analyst at Paddy Power Plc, a Dublin-based gambling company.
    Barry won’t take these odds.
    * Barack Obama 4/7
    * John McCain 5/4

  • Dewi

    You heard it here first.

    Nôs Mccain – Bfb – you wanna bet?

  • latcheeco

    Hold off on the celebrations a while yet. There’s many a slip. Never underestimate the ability of turkeys to vote for Christmas.
    You leave the redneck comunity alone and I’ll leave the muck-savage and gombeen communities alone :).
    Tina Fey cleaned Palin as predicted. I would not discount the SNL role in the recent game changing. The skits have been replayed to death on the msm.

  • BfB


    I never gamble..
    Whatr’ure terms?

    Lathchee keep depending on SNL for your politics..

  • latcheeco

    Rather wits on SNL than half-wits on Fox

  • BfB


    Ya, it’s Fox what’s done us up all right….
    Liberal politics at it’s best.. Blame a tv show..

  • latcheeco

    Nope, it’s George, Karl and Dick what done you up. No way round it. Fox just spoon fed you and spiced up the medecine with your deepest darkest insecurities. Or maybe it’s Rushbo or the straight-talk express you depend on Bob.

  • BfB

    Karl and Dick are great men….Scare the shit out of lackeys like you, I’m sure. You panty wearing neolibs can’t handle authority…After all, life is pass/fail, right? Bush has kept us safe, but time for him to go. All good men, every one.
    I depend on the truth. It seems I get more of that on the conservative side of life.
    The useful idiot days are coming to an end. Enjoy them.

  • steve

    The useful idiot days are coming to an end. Enjoy them.

    Posted by BfB on Oct 01, 2008 @ 01:21 AM

    Sorry to hear it bob we will miss you to no end

  • latcheeco

    I think thats the village idiot days, and the village is Crawford Texas. If we wear panties how come yall needed Alaskan Barbie girl to come down and save you? It’s not that we can’t handle authority we’re just with the whole Constitution thing, all of it (the ultimate authority in the country). Dick couldn’t handle that so he ignored it; great American that he is. Were we safe on 9/11? Remind me again whose watch that was? Who was warned and ignored it? Who got Iraq mixed up with Iran?