Saturday, September 27, 2008

Recap of the 2008 Presidential Debate from Ole Miss

*updated Saturday, 9/27 11:33 am est

The pundits will be spinning this all night but there are three ways to look at Friday night's debate hosted by the University of Mississippi.

  • You can judge whether each candidate advanced their message
  • You can judge the substance of the candidate's argument
  • You can judge the candidates on their style.
I'll look at these in reverse order.

On Style

There is a strange irony that this debate was held at Ole Miss. The University of Mississippi was the scene of one of the pivotal moments in the civil rights movement. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy had to call out US Marshals in order to protect James Meredith, the first African American student to enroll in the University. Both the University and the State of Mississippi have come a long way since then.

So why do I bring that up now. Because tonight it seemed that Senator John McCain treated his debate opponent Sen. Barack Obama with the same disdain that Governor Ross Barnett directed at James Meredith.

No, I'm not calling John McCain a racist. But McCain's repeated use of the phrase "Senator Obama just doesn't understand", his failure to ever look in Sen. Obama's direction, and those angry scowls, struck a strange chord with many debate observers.

Mississippi has progressed into the 21st century and McCain is stuck in the Sixties.

On the other hand, Sen. Obama seemed strong, cordial, occasionally smiling and in control of his emotions and his facts.

So on style points, I give the debate to Obama.

On Substance

Neither candidate did a great job in answering the question on how the $700 billion Wall Street bailout would impact their plans. However, Senator Obama was consistent in his message that
healthcare, energy independence, and education could not be ignored if this nation is to move into the future.

Conversely Senator McCain suggested that he would "freeze spending". All I could think at this point was: Is he saying that he'll just let the bridges keep falling down?

When it came to a discussion of "The Surge", Senator McCain stated that "Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy." That line worked for McCain during the debate. But listen to what Senator Obama's running mate, Senator Joe Biden had to say about it post-debate*:

Senator McCain remarked that Senator Obama shouldn't have openly discussed going into Pakistan after Bin Laden. This statement from then man who sang, "bomb, bomb. bomb, bomb, bomb Iran".

However, Senator Obama probably stated one too many times that he agreed with Senator McCain. And even if he was agreeing on minor points, these will be the clips that the GOP will play over, and over and over .....

So on substance, while I don't agree with many of Senator McCain's views, I have concede that this area would be scored as a tie by most viewers.

On Who Advanced Their Message

Here we have a draw. They both spoke to their core constituencies.
John McCain came across as a warrior and Barack Obama came across as a diplomat. What else did you expect.

By the way, it took until the bitter end but John McCain did work in a reference to his POW experience.

Of course, these are just my thoughts. You have to decide for yourself.

P.S. Thanks to C-SPAN for creating their new debate hub. It was great live blogging and reading the tweets.

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