Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bob Schieffer for President?

With the third and final debate now in the books, there seems to be one thing that everyone who watched will be able to agree on: Bob Schieffer nailed it. If ever there was context to show just how miserable Tom Brokaw and Gwen Ifill were in their roles as debate moderators, this was it. Schieffer's questions did not exist in a vacuum, as so many of the previous questions in these debates had. He seemed very well aware of the flaws in the previous debates, and he seemed to know what the people really wanted to hear discussed. His pointed but fair inquiries cut through much of the flowery talk that pervades these meetings, and his insistence that the candidates address one another was artful. He allowed plenty of time for multiple follow-ups, giving each candidate a chance to rebut the other...if not once on the same issue, than two or even three times. There were plenty of platitudes and speaking points tonight to be sure, but there was far more meat on these bones to pick.

As for the debaters, while both candidates seemed to benefit from the more free-wheeling format, and while both had moments where they seemed better equipped to handle a certain issue than the other, this was Obama's best performance---if only because be rose to the challenge of a more aggressive McCain by being powerful, calm and, quite frankly, more presidential. Much has been made about the issue of temperament in this election. Some think that McCain is too erratic and too impulsive, while others think Obama is too relaxed and professorial. What Obama did tonight was show that you can be both calm and aggressive. Aggression does not have to take the guise of snarkiness or condescension. Methodical deconstruction of a policy position and insistence on correcting the record is an effective way to lead and build a consensus, and it's what Obama did repeatedly tonight. McCain, while having the right answer on more than one occasion, betrayed this progress by justifying the concerns about his temperament. He seems deeply flustered that he's losing and it manifests itself in obvious condescension, an almost plea of, "hey, look at look at this guy...i mean, come on!"

Obama was at his best when dealing with the issue of ACORN voter fraud and with his "terrorist friend" Bill Ayers. He didn't shy away from either issue and he explained, quite unambiguously, why both are non-issues. The relevance of "associations" is not unimportant, and the association between Obama and Ayers is a valid topic for discussion. What's disingenuous, however, is what McCain/Palin intend the "question" of that association to imply. Credit Bob Schieffer with really getting to the heart of this latest line of attack, essentially getting McCain to undercut his own argument by calling Ayers a "washed-up terrorist,"...basically, an irrelevant person.

If you had been living in a cave for the last two years and crawled out to watch this debate, you'd be left with the unmistakable impression that McCain is losing this race. While he was far from bad, everything smacked of desperation. It feels like he's losing. I expect this debate to crystallize the current trend in the polls. McCain did nothing to energize his base tonight, and undecideds are likely to see this, as they have the previous two debates, as another test passed with flying colors by the next President of the United States.


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