The First Debate

I took in tonight’s debate that almost never was with Minnesota Public Radio, at their UBS studio with about 100 other people.

There were probably eight or ten identified Republicans in the place. I’ll give some kudos to MPR; we were probably represented in greater proportion that we are among MPR’s mailing list, if not among its audience. I was joined by Derek, Lassie and Diamond Dog from Freedom Dogs, among a few others.

I took 32 pages of notes (to be fair, they were 3×5 inch sheets of paper) – but really, Bob Collins at MPR’s News Cut had a pretty complete liveblog. So did Ed, naturally. So I won’t regurgitate all my notes.

But I will give some of my observations.

It Started Bad for Mac: He looked and sounded nervous for the first question, in the first five minutes or so. I got really nervous for a bit there. He looked like it took a moment to get his bearings.

Once We Got Past The Jitters, There Was A Pattern: Obama talked in terms of talking points and lots of fairly vague generalities. McCain – once he found his sea legs – mopped the floor with Obama on specifics, experience and gravitas.

Obama Was Fixated On Taxes: The second question asked the candidates what they’d cut from their plans, given the economic crisis. Obama would not answer the question. On top of that, he kept mixing up tax hikes for cuts.

Mac’s Message: “Let’s Get The Band Together Again”: Mac continued [what I maintain is] his strategy of bypassing the “elites” and the media, and going directly to the old Reagan Coalition. I don’t think much of the audience, Obama supporters that they were, got it.

McCain Ruled The Second Half: Once the debate switched to pure foreign policy, Obama seemed to rely on platitudes, while Mac was able, more and more, to not only draw on his decades of experience, but to relax and, finally, appear in command of the situation. For the last half of the debate, Obama seemed like he was on the defensive, and on issue after issue Mac kept him on the ropes; the guy’s been where history’s been made for the past quarter century; I’m not sure how Obama could be anything but overmatched.
After the debate, Jeff Horwich of In The Loop held a forum, focusing mostly on undecided voters. This was interesting, in a sense; so few of the people I hang out with are actually undecided, being either committed conservatives or committed liberals.

But there were plenty of Obama supporters – easily over half of the crowd. And the refrain that it seemed like all of them came up with to describe the debate; “McCain was condescending”. I got a little laugh out of that – me, the “bitter, gun-clinging Jesus freek”, or whatever it was that Obama called me and people like me; me, the supporter of the “broad who should be home raising her kids”, of the “old guy” as so many lefties refer to McCain; lefties, who are so supremely condescending to all of us gun-toting, WalMart shopping, often suburb-dwelling Middle Americans, get hurt when Mac takes The One to school on the issues? I was tempted to get up and yell “sack up and grow a pair, you hamsters”. Decorum ruled, however.

Kudos to MPR, at any rate; I think they’re making a serious effort to ensure some sort of ideological diversity in these events. I had a great time (the free Finnegan’s Irish Amber didn’t hurt, either).

UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff stated it well:

McCain was the teacher; Obama was the promising but somewhat disappointing student — the one who knows lots of facts but ultimately doesn’t quite get the big picture

In reaching this verdict, I don’t want to give the impression did Obama did badly. To the contrary, I think he debated quite well for the most past. Certainly, his performance should end the mantra of certain critics that Obama can’t handle himself without a tele-prompter. The problem for Obama was not his performance; his problem was that once McCain got past his dreadful first “round” of the debate, he excelled. McCain was more knowledgeable, more to the point, keener on the attack, and (above all) deeper than Obama.

The reality is that, when he’s in form, McCain is deeper than just about anyone. Recall his debates with Mitt Romney (and a cast of thousands). Romney was articulate (probably more so than Obama) and knowledgeable. But McCain had an octave that Romney just couldn’t reach (though Giuliani did at times). McCain hit those notes frequently tonight; Obama couldn’t reach them any more than Romney could.

Paul’s right – Obama did debate capably (as I noted to the MPR audience when called upon to give a strong suit to Obama’s performance). But McCain exuded authority. I guess when your guy doesn’t exude it, one might think it “condescending”.

Obama looked like a plausible president. So, voters who are too disgusted to vote for a Republican probably got enough reassurance from Obama tonight to take the plunge. But to the extent voters are still comparing the two candidates, rather than voting up or down on Obama, I think it was a good night for McCain.

We noted that with Horwich’s interviews with the “undecideds” in the room. There was one – let’s just say an “obvious” democrat – who said she was a Hillary supporter, who was never going to vote for a Republican at any rate, who thought Obama did just fantastic. But another – a genuine undecided – admitted to have been given signficant pause by Obama’s performance and, especially, Mac’s.

9 thoughts on “The First Debate

  1. It is both the saving grace and supreme worry that, the more people knew before the debate, the more likely they were to see Obama’s flubs, misstatements, lies and glittering generalities for what they were, and to conclude that McCain won easily. That’s a worry because a truly informed electorate would be laughing Obama off the planet right now.

  2. True. The Wife and I only watched the first hour. While I was less than impressed by Mac, she and I both found ourselves calling liar and bullshit several times on The One.

  3. Funny how the impression from the debate in FACT was that the charicatrure you all built, the basis upon which your campaign strategy rests, was dismissed handily by Obama according to polls of undecideds and independents.

    2/3rd of those polled said they felt ‘comfortable’ with Obama handling a crisis, were impressed by his grasp of issues, etc..

    While Angry McSame, seemed petulant, smug, and focused on the past – you might even say, he seemed like what so many times it seems like you get when you deal with neo-cons, myopic, smug, mean-spirited, and angry people pretending to be jovial.

    Mitch, the polls say otherwise – just sayin, and candidly, other than not being aggressive enough with McCain about the fact that the ‘surge’ is a misnomer – it was about a change in attitude which McCain generally opposed – that changed the tone in Iraq, AND not having a ready answer to what he’d cut – Obama generally wiped the floor with McCain. No, not on all points, but on plenty of them – but then again you’re a partisan for McCain, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m merely opposed to more of Bush’s unethical cronies, or their heirs apparent, running things. I don’t laud Obama, but he certainly seemed more gracious, clever, and quick thinking than McCain. McCain repeated the same old crap 10 times over – that’s not a debate, it’s a commercial, and he looked angry doing it.

  4. Parker has been a long-time anti-McCain partisan at NRO – and NRO is not a pack of Mac fans. Her opinion is an opinion, not the dispositive truth.

    Your command of Mac’s history re Iraq is…interesting.

    That’s really the only word for it.

  5. Yes, interesting, in that I’ve said it a few times, and is EXACTLY what the Iraqis who testified before congress from Al Maliki’s governmnet said.

    Interesting indeed.

  6. Of course her opinion is just an opinion, just as everything you say is just your opinion. However, my point was pretty much this, the EDITORIAL STAFF APPROVED THE POINT.

    I guess that means the NRO and I see things the same on her, well, me and several million other people.

    Nice of you to ignore it though. Just as it was nice of you to ignore the entire opinions of the Obama supporters simply because they are Obama supporters.

    As for Mac sidestepping the media – sure he is – right out of the race with performances like that.

    Nice tap dancing and obfuscation on the entire response, though.

    Those are really the only words for it.

  7. Peev,

    Parker’s opinion is her own but it doesn’t carry the imprimatur of NRO any more than the occasional Charles Krauthammer piece that runs in the Star Tribune carries the imprimatur of the Star Tribune editorial board. And you know that. If you don’t, you are displaying what one of my old professors called “a willful commitment to ignorance.”

    For that matter, Mitch (and JRoosh) let your ravings stand most of the time. It sure the heck doesn’t mean that they approve of what you say and your opinions surely don’t have the official approval of the Shot in the Dark blog.

    And finally, no one can ignore the opinions of Obama supporters – the very air we breathe is filled with it. Until Election Day, there is simply no escape from it.

    Now, do us all a favor and start using spell-check. Or just go away.

  8. I would still like peev — or any Obama supporter — to say exactly what Obama has done that makes them think Obama would make a good president.
    He is less experienced than Sarah Palin.

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