So finally we know what has been missing for the McCain campaign during this debate season: a chair!
John McCain looked so much more comfortable tonight in his snug little seat at Hofstra University than he did in the first two debates, when he stood awkwardly at a lectern in Mississippi or lurched around the town hall meeting in Tennessee. His performance tonight wasn’t radically better, but this time at least you did not worry that McCain’s inner voice was crying: Help! Get me out of here!
Despite McCain’s improved comfort level, the GOP nominee seemed once more to be outmaneuvered by Mr. Cool. Barack Obama again showed an ability to explain clearly and calmly to the American people what’s going on in the U.S. economy, and why his policies may help to fix what’s wrong. He conveys in an almost subliminal way the sense that rational people -- people like him, specifically -- can solve these problems. And that’s the kind of reassurance the American people are looking for.
Obama finally seemed to connect tonight with the reality that the country is really hurting, and really scared. Still no FDR moment, still too many repetitions of three-point plans we’ve heard before. But at least there was more urgency tonight when Obama spoke of the economic crisis. For McCain, inexplicably, the economic issue remained a disconnect.
McCain seemed unable to decide tonight whether he wanted to take the high road or the low road, and so he tried a little of both. Which is to say, he wasn’t sure where he was going. He brought up the issue of Bill Ayers and Obama’s supposed links to this “terrorist,” but he didn’t explain the issue or drive it home.
Obama delivered a cogent rebuttal. McCain took a similar roundhouse swing on ACORN’s voter registration drive, using heavy-duty rhetoric about fraud without explaining what he was talking about. Unless you’re an already-convinced listener of right-wing talk radio, your reaction to these not-quite-attacks was probably: Say what????
What I liked best about Obama’s performance tonight was that he said one of the unspeakables in American politics -- which is that ordinary people are going to have to make sacrifices to fix problems.
That’s the thing you never hear in the usual debates -- the idea that Mom and Pop are going to have to cut back their spending, or save more, or be more careful in their financial decisions. This taboo is part of the we-can-have-it-all illusion in American politics. But Obama challenged it head-on.
“There is no doubt that we’ve been living beyond our means, and we’re going to have to make some adjustments,” Obama said at one point. “We're not going to be able to go back to our profligate ways,” he continued -- specifying that by that, he meant government, business and ordinary folks, too. Mirabile dictu! Wonderful to relate.
What these debates have shown America is that Barack Obama, the skinny guy with the funny name, is a calm and coherent voice in a frightening time. He has been leaderly, reassuring, respectful of his opponent but tough in making his case.
Let’s just say it: In the three debates, he has sounded presidential.
Thursday, October 16, 2008