ANALYSIS: Looking Back On Last Night’s Presidential Debate

Last night we got a chance to see Barack Obama and John McCain share a stage for the second presidential debate.  Who won?  Who Lost?  Can we possibly insert the term “teabag” into our liveblogging any more than we already have?  All and more after the jump!

First,you can check out our liveblogging of the event here.  I was joined by my fellow bloggers tas and Kathy, as well as some of our readers in the Radical Moderate, Dynamic, and An Appreciative Teacher, and I’ve got to say it was by far the best liveblog I think we’ve done this election season yet.

You can also read for yourself a transcript of the debate here in case you missed the debate, or you can watch it at your leisure over at Hulu.  I’m going to kick off the morning-after analysis with my snap analysis from last night’s debate, after which I will provide some further thoughts, data, and analysis.

Again, I’m going to give this debate over to Obama. I know, big surprise, but I’ll tell you why.

First and foremost, we have to remember that this debate is occurring in context. Depending on which poll you look, McCain is down by anywhere from six points to double digits nationally, and depending on which electoral map you look at, Obama is either in striking distance of the big 270, or he’s already well out ahead of that.

With that taken into consideration, you have to remember that every big opportunity to “change the game” that McCain doesn’t capitalize on only moves the percentages of an Obama win higher. This was the second to the last debate, this was McCain’s second to last chance to really win over a series of news cycles in his favor, and I think on that note, McCain really failed.

Obama has made it clear exactly what his persona and his strategy will be for the rest of the general election. On strategy, it will continue to be slow and steady wins the race, and on persona, it will be the “cool hand at the tiller” that McCain meant. In this fashion, while McCain paced and occasionally dipped into cranky old man behavior, when McCain made the call that the country needs that “steady hand” what he may not have realized is that his opponent far better resembles that characterization.

By contrast, McCain still comes across, as I mentioned above, as cranky, and at times outright disrespectful. While it’s a little vague which candidate got a better response from the independents in a positive manner, it was plain as day that they showed their disapproval the most when McCain went on the attack. On top of that, I think one of the most telling portions of the debate was in regards to Obama’s stance on Pakistan.

McCain blatantly mischaracterized Obama’s Pakistan policy, Obama clarified it right there, and even said, paraphrasing here, ‘and the people in the audience heard me say it just now’, and then McCain tried to mischaracterize the policy yet again. That really didn’t go over well.

Granted, neither candidate’s attacks went over particularly well, but I think McCain’s reputation for sleaze is really starting to reap some terrible benefits now.

So, what we saw tonight were two candidates, and one was clearly still more presidential, and one was John McCain. The focus group providing the mood meter appears to back that up, and the quick glance I saw at CNN’s analyst score card also seems to have backed that up. Now we just have to wait for the flash polls and other focus groups.

By and large, I stand by this analysis.  With less than a month to go before the election, the race is not, I repeat, not close.  With that in mind, McCain needs a game changer and he needs it fast.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen last night.

I mentioned before the debate that the expectations going into the debate last night were a little different, the national mood and the relationship that the American public has developed towards the two candidates has changed from the first debate.  Looking at the widening gap of support and the narrowing electoral map, it is becoming clear that a majority of Americans (or at the very least a strong plurality) want to vote for Obama.  But the first impressions were already cast in the first debate, making this second debate more along the lines of confirming those first impressions.

Putting this in a slightly less convoluted way, the candidates are no longer blank slates to the voting populace.  People from the first debate who began to see themselves possibly voting for Obama needed that to be confirmed last night, and in this way McCain needed something to jump out and say, “No, I’m the guy!  I’m the guy!”

But what really happened was, again, one candidate clearly looked presidential, and the other candidate was John McCain.

This has already been confirmed in the snap polling that took place immediately after the debate.  According to CBS’s snap poll, Obama won the debate easily by a twelve point margin, and in CNN’s snap poll the margin was even broader at 54 to 30 in Obama’s favor.

Part of this was substance.  Obama simply has a substantive edge over McCain in just about every area.  For instance, when the discussion turned to getting Osama bin Laden, Obama spoke easily and knowledgeably about the mistakes made in the past, and the actual situation on the ground in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  McCain, on the other hand, sounded almost petulant when he insisted he knew how to get bin Laden, but refused to actually discuss how.

In fact, that’s been something of a McCain failing.  For all the talk this election season about how Obama doesn’t have the substance to match the rhetoric, it is McCain who expects us to take him at his word.  McCain says he knows how to win wars, but there’s actually scant little evidence of it.  He says he knows how to get bin Laden, but he refuses to discuss how.  By contrast, Obama weaves arguments based on evidence, and last night particularly the contrast between the two different approaches couldn’t be more glaring.

Nor could the contrast in the level of respect.  My co-blogger tas, during the liveblogging last night, brought up a very interesting point.  McCain paced… a lot.  He was restless, and at times gave the impression that he was thinking, “yeah yeah, hurry up, it’s my turn to talk.”  By contrast, Obama was courteous, he remained seated as McCain spoke, and even smiled graciously as McCain tried aiming attacks at him.  By the end of the night, you just got the feeling that Obama comported himself like a president, and McCain didn’t know how.

Which brings me to what Kathy picked up immediately after the show as potentially McCain’s glancing at his watch moment.  Two simple words, “that one”:


You don’t see it in the mood meter in the clip, but in the online mood meter which broke the focus groups not among men and women but among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and through this particular response among the latter two groups McCain nearly bottomed out.

I remember at the time thinking that it was because McCain was using a rather silly excuse for voting against alternative energy which may still be a contributing factor, but as is becoming increasingly clear, there are a lot of people that are taking offense to McCain referring to Senator Obama as “That one.”

Marc Ambinder notes that this is actually phrasing that McCain uses on the stump often, but also concedes that he tends to set up the term a little better on the campaign trail than he did last night in the debate.  Last night it came off as blatantly disrespectful, and according to some, even potentially racially charged.  I won’t go that far, but I will say that it is remarkable that a man aspiring to be the President of the United States can’t manage to even put on a gloss of respect for a fellow member of the US Senate.

And here’s why it matters; Americans are concerned.  They are concerned foremost about the economy, but they are also concerned with the fact that our standing in the world has fallen.  When our current president gives female German heads of state back rubs, people are concerned that our next president will carry with him the kind of gravitas that reflects positively on the rest of us, and when McCain can’t even give a member of his own governing body the most basic amount of respect, that becomes worrisome when you contemplate how he would approach other world leaders.

So all in all I think I was right in my pre game analysis on one point; there was no bloodletting.  No mention of Ayers, and no mention of Keating, and after a while it did get to be a fairly boring affair.  Still, focus groups and snap polls are showing this to be another clear win for Obama, and given the state of the race and the rapidly diminishing game clock, that means it’s a heavy loss and another lost opportunity for McCain.

Will this debate move poll numbers?  It’s tough to say and we won’t really know until tomorrow, but I would say that Obama may get at least a couple more points out of this nationally, as well as tighten up the electoral map even more in his favor.

8 Responses to “ANALYSIS: Looking Back On Last Night’s Presidential Debate”

  1. jpmdevildog says:

    It certainly didn’t help that McCain used psychic aliens to get the questions ahead of time.

    Uh huh yeah that’s right:

  2. DrGail says:

    I’m sorry I missed the liveblogging last night. I was very tempted to participate, but my husband has a strong preference for watching debates with me, and not in front of the computer.

    What struck me in the debate was how phenomenally well Obama connected with the audience. He was able to explain — simply, clearly, and accurately — why the bailout of Wall Street should matter to the rest of us. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, and his explanation was illuminating to me, and not condescending or oversimplified in the least. We noticed people nodding and smiling while he was talking, to underscore my conclusion that he connected well.

    And McCain. . .well, I found it hard to imagine how anyone could look at McCain and not think “creepy old guy”. Your point about him not offering specifics was well-taken; I wondered at the time if he could have come up with examples (of how he had fought the establishment, or worked across the aisle, etc.) if asked to do so. Even if his self-congratulatory statements were grounded in history, I think the incidents have long since been wiped from his memory banks.

  3. Dr. Ethiopia says:

    It has come to this. Obama is showing what we need in a president in this historical time in the world. Leadership and the ability to be the pack-leader. Republicans are finally going to their dispecable proven-and-failed Karl Rove tactics. Attack, attack, attack, and make up some more lies, that is irrelevant to the voters.

  4. heidi says:

    peace out Mccain.

  5. politixican says:

    I deeply question the motives of Obama pertaining to his “love of country”. We have the best country in the world with people eagerly clamoring to come here and become citizens. Our democracy and free market capitalism is the envy of the world. Unless, of course, a person has socialistic preferences. In looking at the deep connection between Obama and terrorist Bill Ayers (especially via the fact that Obama served on Ayers board at the CAC and distributed nearly $100 million through that organization – to groups such as ACORN – for the stated purpose of radicalizing children…to reteach American history with racist and imperialist overtones), and his understudy exposure to Alinski’s marxist views, along with a 20 year association with the outspkoen and anti-American Rev. Wright…I am convinced that Obama is a puppet, a soldier of socialism, hellbent on changing not simply the way Washington works, but instead, the form of American governance. His short career in politics contains gaps and unanswered questions – information which America is entitled to know about. In the end, I am confident that John McCain, a man of integrity with a proven track record of experience, will win and serve the U.S. admirably as our next President.

  6. rick g says:

    “Who Lost?”

    The American people.

    Sad choices. Neither one of these guys is deserving being in the White House except on a tour. One is a communist and one is a nut. I must be missing the point. How anyone can be enthusiastic about either one of these guys amazes me.

    We are in deep trouble as a nation. Two incompetent boobs have been nominated for President of the United States and one is going to end up getting the job! Is this really what Democracy is all about? Is it possible the two party system, or at least these two parties, has run their course?

    Maybe the government financing parties for bankrupt insurance execs and bailing out irresponsible millionaires in the financial institutions has just soured me on the overall concept?

  7. dave says:

    na wao

  8. movie fan says:

    The candidates have a major difference in their leadership styles: McCain tends to say, “Follow me because the other guy can’t get it done” while Obama says, “Follow me because I can get it done.” Ideally, the candidates should say, “Follow me because i will help you get it done” … in any case, of the two of them Obama demonstrates a better leadership mentality

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook