Please make sure to read the post that precedes this one. It is the 2nd part of a two part series on the topic of mixed messages. Meanwhile, I’m posting a 2nd post on the 3rd debate, and that’s this one.
I’m sure at this point you’ve had the chance to see the polling and read the reviews of Obama and McCain, so I’m just adding my two cents to complete my coverage on this blog.
The third and final Presidential debate was Wednesday night. Thursday morning, I woke up early to do a radio interview with Gary Sutton and Jim Horn on WSBA 910 in Philadelphia. I had to get my thoughts organized, and at 5am, that’s a challenge.
Still, having had a chance to sleep on it, I woke up with some fairly clear ideas on the debate.
I’ve said from the beginning that John McCain’s greatest strengths in this campaign were his heroic service to the country under the most difficult circumstances, his experience, his association with reform (the right recovery strategy from the embarrassment of the Keating 5 scandal to reclaim his honorable reputation), and his likability…witnessed through numerous appearances on late night comedy shows, and found in his gift for the self deprecating one liner. He could have fashioned all of this into one helluva campaign. I can see where he had a real chance of winning his contest against Barack Obama.
Sadly, he did not. And not for lack of trying. He’s certainly been trying to fashion a campaign. But for some reason, he, much like Hillary in the primaries, set all of his strengths aside and decided to make his convention, and then his campaign, all about his opponent, Barack Obama. Instead of playing off his strengths, he chose the self defeating path of tearing down Obama.
He’s not alone in this. Several people I’ve spoken with on the political right seem to think this is the right way to do things…I give credit to Karl Rove for leading so many astray in pursuit of a divided nation. Rove, a student of Machiavelli, showed the Republicans that they could win or steal anything they wanted to if only they were willing to say or do anything to achieve their end. He taught them the opposite of what decent people know, and of what most of us learned in our civics classes growing up. He taught them that the end justifies the means. And John McCain, like so many of his Republican peers, drank the Kool Aid.
Choosing the wrong path has cost him. Obama has demonstrated a deft ability at turning negative attacks to his advantage, while persistently and consistently seeking to persuade people that he has a platform for fundamental change in our politics as usual system.
So that set’s the stage for this last debate.
McCain came into the debate in a ‘down at the bottom of the 9th’ situation, the score two to nothing, and Palin having fouled out, in that she has done him no good with the broader electorate. At best, he was hoping to score a run and then try to run on that as momentum.
He came to the table with just a bit of confidence, and a bit more clarity than in the previous debates (at least at the outset) and you could detect some of his charm at the outset. Sadly, it didn’t last. And the result is that in spite of a feisty attempt at turning the tables, it was too little, too late, and done with too much anger and negativity to do him any good. I think his heart isn’t in it. I think McCain’s assault on Obama is, by virtue of McCain’s own nature, a terrible mixed message doomed to fail.
McCain kept taking shots at every opportunity, and then failing to follow through (for the reason I stated above). Obama kept dismissing the jabs and focusing on his message. And Obama demonstrated poise and dignity, as he kept giving some credit to McCain before differentiating the two campaigns for viewers. McCain had nothing positive to say about Obama, other than offering faint praise for his eloquence as a set up for taking more shots at him. To summarize, Obama was clearly running for President. McCain was clearly running to undermine Obama. Helluva thing. McCain seemed like a sore loser to many. A jaw grinding, fidgety and frustrated sore loser.
McCain was rude, ungracious, angry, in fact, eye-poppingly angry. It played into the stereotype of McCain, that was inadvertently nurtured by his own campaign’s decisions through this election season. He seemed to fulfill the image of himself as hot headed, mentally unstable and unsteady. And when McCain fired off his best zinger, in a way that was surprisingly effective considering how ineffective he’d been throughout these debates, Obama was ready for it and turned it to his advantage.
John McCain: ”I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”
Barack Obama: “…fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush’s policies, it’s because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.”
And Obama, during the discussion of negative campaigning brought to light by the moderator, offered to focus the campaign on ideas, McCain’s response was to defend, explain and justify a campaign strategy that is clearly not resonating with Americans. ??? And Obama again turned it to his advantage.
“It says more about your campaign than it does about me.”
So while McCain used this last best shot at changing the minds of voters to reinforce what hasn’t worked for him, Obama used his time to talk about his presidency and how it would be different than the last 8 years.
The most interesting aspect of McCain’s approach to the debate was that he gave the clear impression that he believes in what his campaign has been doing, thus taking responsibility for a campaign that pundits have been dismissing as the work of people around him who wouldn’t let McCain be McCain.
McCain’s biggest blunder in the debate was on the issue of abortion. His scoffing about the health of women had to have cost him the votes of the Hillary supporters he so clearly coveted when he picked Sarah Palin, and reinforced all of their fears about what a McCain Palin ticket would mean for women’s healthcare choices. And Obama used that blunder to make a reasoned appeal to people on both sides of the abortion issue. He talked about what they could agree on. And he made the case that ‘Nobody is pro-abortion.’ It was a compelling moment, probably one of his strongest in the event.
Obama’s biggest blunder? You got me. The only thing I would fault him for is all the missed opportunities to counter the attacks directed at him. But clearly, he knows what he’s doing. Polls show that voters can make these connections themselves, and Obama is choosing to stay on message no matter how much gorilla dust is in the air. He has been consistent across 3 debates, likable across 3 debates, cool and calm across 3 debates, on message in 3 debates, and conducting himself with dignity and inner authority in 3 debates. On the 7 signals of persuasion, he gets points from me for likability, authority, consistency, comparison, conformity, reciprocity, and scarcity. McCain loses points for likability, authority, consistency, comparison, conformity, reciprocity and scarcity. The victor in these debates was Barack Obama. And unless this election has been rigged in some dramatic and too-easy-to-figure-out ways, Obama will be the next President of the United States of America.
And now, on a couple of side-notes: What about Joe the plumber, whose life will forever be changed? Turns out that Joe has a colorful past. No Bill Ayers, but trouble with the tax man. So big surprise that he has issues about taxes? NOT! And in a tv interview, he compares Obama talking with Sammy Davis Jr. dancing.
Hmmm. I hope Joe isn’t your average Joe. I think he is what he appears to be, a guy who doesn’t trust government at all, a bit on the racist side, and with a bad temper to boot! I’m not saying he’s a Republican plant, because it appears that he was on the street where Obama was campaigning and just went for the opportunity to challenge a candidate. He did misrepresent himself to Obama as making more than he actually does, and didn’t mention his tax problems, but he’s since cleared that up. I watched the video of Obama talking with him, and frankly, I was amazed at the quality of the effort Obama made to explain himself to Joe. I think Joe was surprised by it too! And Obama’s graciousness at the end was cool, when he said, “I may not get your vote, but I’ll still work hard for you.”
Then there was McCain’s accusation about Acorn destroying the fabric of our democracy. Here’s a link to a fact check on that.
Bottom line, it isn’t a threat to the fabric of our democracy. Once again, the McCain campaign pulls something out of context and tries to use it to undermine the opponent, and it doesn’t stand up to critical thinking. It gives the appearance of flailing.
I encourage you to go to MyDebates.org, as Bob Schiffer asked debate watchers to do, and take the test regarding the various issues in this campaign. It may be a real eye opener for you.
Your comments are welcome.