Wednesday, October 08, 2008

DEBATE NIGHT: MANCHURIAN CANDIDATES. I did some liveblogging at the Voice, and also a quick roundup of the usual suspects. I thought Obama did okay, but judging by their bitter responses our rightwing brethren seem to think he won, though they don't have the bad taste to say so.

I sympathize with their dolor. Obama was low key and, it must be said, sometimes evasive, but it got him over. I still think that Zen lady at the end deserved an answer, not a stump summation. But McCain did the same thing, and I am pleased that Obama was willing to game the system on his own behalf -- by any means necessary, comrade! Where he took time to explain himself, he was eloquent, at least by TV debate standards. It was wise for him to expect viewers to comprehend his detailed explanation of McCain's insurance portability scam and how it would lead insurers to shop for the least consumer-friendly state in which to do business -- it is traditional to treat them as idiots, but many voters have had to examine credit card statements, mortgages, loan statements, and other such documents, and will respond to a friendly warning about the fine print. (I wonder that McCain didn't jump on Obama's mention of Delaware as an opportunity to attack Joe Biden. Probably he was too busy rehearsing his other slurs. That guy's not very quick on his feet.)

I will add that I had an interesting conversation with Julia about this afterwards, in which she brought up the similarities between McCain's sense of entitlement in these events and Bush's. I think the reversals of fortune that both these worthies suffered in their lives affected the ways both of them have run for President, but to dissimilar effect. Bush's natural self-regard was amplified by his ascent from alcoholism into fundamentalism: it merely gave him a better excuse for the self-regard he already had going in. McCain of course had the more severe and genuine reversal, and I thought his explanation of that at the Republican Convention was convincing: he had been broken down and put back together, in a more meaningful way than AA or whatever achieved for Bush. It was the most attractive moment of his candidacy. But if it gave him a new, better reason to believe in himself, it isn't something that comes across in the campaign. When he accused Obama tonight of talking tough and said that he himself wasn't "gonna telegraph my punches," it was as if he were talking about somebody else -- what kind of man announces that he doesn't telegraph? This may be the problem with the more aggressive campaign that Rick Davis led him into: it forces him to act like a common jingo. I don't think it suits him. Bush of course is ridiculously lacking in self-awareness, and that was his strength in 2000 and 2004 -- his inability to admit error made him look forthright. Might it be that McCain is unconsciously telegraphing, so to speak, a painful awareness that he's not the man he's been asked to play on TV? I hope so -- that man may yet be President.

Also: isn't it interesting that putative Obama supporter Megan McArdle really wants McCain to work the Bill Ayers angle? Now there's someone who hasn't come to terms with what she really wants. Maybe her days on a basketball team constitute her conversion narrative. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough.

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