Friday, September 26, 2008

OBAMA VS. McCAIN: Debating the debacle on debates (Who loses more?)

There’s one thing to keep in mind about political debates of any kind – the only way there’s a “winner” is if somebody says something stupid.

So on a certain level, the world will not come to an end should Republican presidential nominee John McCain maintain his hissy-fit mentality and manage to prevent the first debate of Campaign ’08 from taking place Friday as scheduled.

THE REAL LOSERS of “no debate” will be the operators of hotels and restaurants that would have gained some extra business from a two-day flood of extra people (political- and reporter-types) who would have made the trip to Oxford, Miss., to see McCain take on Democratic opponent Barack Obama.

It’s not like either Obama or McCain is a natural when it comes to the debate format, which is more about being quick on the draw verbally with brief snippets of speech. And if one can manage to get a cheap shot in without coming off as too mean-spirited, that increases their chance of being perceived as the debate “winner.”

Obama is the guy who can actually write his own speeches and have deep thoughts that can take complex sentences to explain. He’s the guy who has the potential to constantly have the debate clock cut him off in mid-thought.

And as for McCain, he’s the guy who could potentially fall asleep in mid-debate, or come off as too feisty and grumpy. In short, he could be the sequel to Bob Dole’s “mean old man” persona.

McCAIN IS THE guy who hates the debate format (with its structured questions and limited time for responses) so much that he has repeatedly tried to push for a “town hall” format type of hearing – which creates the illusion of “common folk” asking questions of interest to them, but really amounts to hearing from people who were picked because they were political partisans of the candidates.

In short, they could be trusted not to try to embarrass the candidates.

The debate season this year is going to be more about who puts their foot in the mouth more than anything else. It won’t be about raising the intelligence quotient of the electorate.

Despite that, I must admit to being disgusted that McCain is trying to mess with the format of three debates (with one other between the vice presidential hopefuls) that his campaign staff agreed to – and which has become the expected routine in recent years of presidential campaigns.

I UNDERSTAND WHY he is doing it.

McCain is gambling that a significant portion of the electorate is so inclined to think in terms of voting “ABO” (Anybody But Obama) that they will believe him when he says he wants to spend time focusing on the financial problems confronting this country – particularly if the U.S. government has to provide a bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the rest of the financial community.

He’s hoping they will go so far as to demonize people like David Letterman, who spent a good portion of his late night talk show Wednesday trashing McCain for his actions, particularly since they resulted in McCain skipping out on his scheduled television appearance with Letterman with virtually no warning.

Some people are inclined to believe McCain’s rhetoric, even though another significant portion of the electorate thinks McCain is merely trying to dodge Obama. Those of a “conspiracy theory” mentality will even go so far as to claim that McCain is covering up some sort of illness that makes him incapable of participating in a debate Friday night.

ALL I HAVE to say is that I think McCain is being short-sighted in wanting to pull out of a Friday night debate, and not just because I agree with the Obama campaign rhetoric that says a debate is the perfect chance for the presidential candidates to express their views about what needs to be done to resolve the financial crisis.

What gets to me is that the Friday night debate in Mississippi was supposed to be the one that focuses on foreign policy issues.

That supposedly is the area in which the long-time member of Congress has significant experience over his opponent – who although he has been an elected official for a dozen years now, has only spent four of them in Washington.

A poll commissioned by the New York Times and CBS News found that 23 percent more people think McCain is very knowledgeable about foreign affairs compared to Obama – 45 percent to 22 percent.

BUT PERHAPS McCAIN is more influenced by various polls that showed Obama regaining a lead after a one-week period following the presidential nominating conventions during which public curiosity over vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin caused McCain to have a lead.

The most recent study by the Gallup Organization on Thursday showed the two in a 46 percent tie with each other, with evidence that many people are inclined to blame Republicans for financial problems confronting this country.

Does McCain want to avoid the chance of saying something stupid that would cause Obama to come off as the intelligent one with a vision of the future? Perhaps he thinks that by cutting the number of debates reduces the odds of creating a gaffe that will be forevermore remembered by political scientist geeks.

Of course, some have speculated that McCain’s real intent is to reduce the chance that any debate will take place between the vice presidential hopefuls.

AFTER ALL, THE point is to have all four debates within a 15-day time period. Rescheduling a presidential debate in Mississippi for a few days later could mean there would no longer be time for the Alaska governor to have to confront Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on the issues.

If that is what the McCain campaign is thinking, I can’t help but believe they are making a mistake.

It’s not that I think much of the intellect of Palin. Or even of her public presentation skills. Unlike Obama who can actually write his own copy for speeches and is a strong influence on their content, Palin is purely a product of the GOP campaign machinery.

But I can’t help but think that the social conservatives who like her blind support for their ideology are going to be so determined to find evidence that Biden is “picking on” Palin that she has already “won” her debate.

ANYBODY WHO DARES suggest otherwise will be demonized as a member of the “East Coast Elite” that is out-of-touch with the portion of the United States whose real desire is to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

Why take away a chance to have a situation where Biden can have his words and actions twisted into a menacing figure? I would think that the Palin appearance is the most important for the GOP sympathizers to have. And as a Democrat, it is the one I would most want to avoid.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Is John McCain giving up a chance to discuss on national television ( issues in the one area where a significant portion of the U.S. electorate thinks he is more knowledgable?

On the off-chance that both major presidential candidates show up at the University of Mississippi for the first scheduled presidential debate, a local attempts to offer a little bit of ( advice on how to cope with the locals

Only in cases of highly-competitive political campaigns do the debates have any real significance in influencing the way people vote. Or so says the Gallup Organization, the same ( people who gave us “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

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