Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama's last first impression

My feeling about the debate is the same as everyone else's, I guess: No definitive knockout blows; tie goes to Obama. But I have a handful of thoughts to add.

  • I would have to assume that for people who were not very familiar with Obama prior to the debate, this would have been a reassuring, maybe even eye-opening performance. Obama has been very good at first impressions -- remember those very early primaries? -- and this is one of the very few remaining campaign events where Obama actually will be making the functional equivalent of a first impression on a large group of Americans. That's a benefit to him that may show up in the polls.

  • What this debate didn't have was some kind of defining takeaway line or moment. But that's a good thing, right? It means voters can focus on the arguments put forward and the policies advocated rather than gaffes. We'll see what shape reaction takes over the next few days, of course, but in a no-defining-moments debate, if that is what it was, the guy who is ahead probably benefits.

  • I really liked the format, and thought Jim Lehrer did a good job. Very much liked the direct addressing each other and the interrupting each other and the "I just have to respond to that, Jim."

  • Everyone is focusing on McCain's "Obama just doesn't understand" mantra, and indeed no doubt it was a messaging decision for him to hit that note a dozen times. But I remember from my creative writing workshops that you are supposed to show, not tell -- and even if viewers disagreed with Obama's views and arguments, he certainly didn't come off as clueless or over his head.

  • It was really a lot of story-time for McCain, no? And a ton of historical references. Probably part of the same I-am-experienced messaging, but to me at least the effect was to make his responses seem kind of fuzzy.

  • Stark, clear differences in the candidates' policy positions. There were even a few moments in the debate (on Iraq, e.g.) where I felt like both men actually explained their positions clearly, the positions were radically different, and voters may now have a decent sense of their real choice. Of course, there were other moments that were, uh, less honest and straightforward.

    What did you guys think?

    stridewideman said...

    I agree with most of what you've said here. My only addition is that I thought that Obama could have done a better of job of punching back. His smart professorial positions were ok, but at no point did he just come out and say some of his best points:

    "John, you want to give huge tax breaks to the rich. I want to cut taxes for the middle class. That's the difference."

    "John, your energy policy is more of the same. I want to create tens of thousands of new jobs by investing in a green energy economy. That's the difference."

    "John, you want to trust the market for health care, but we've seen that doesn't work. I just want to make sure everyone has healthcare. Don't tell me that's a bad thing."

    Instead he's pandering on nuclear and clean coal.

    Rob said...

    Let me ask you this, do you think it was a strategic decision to blunt some of those sorts of counterpunches and instead go with the "I agree with you, John" approach? I do. Good or bad strategy, I guess we'll see.

    I just think Obama was very consciously speaking to those people watching who weren't very familiar with him. To that group, there's a risk of being too confrontational -- not just the angry-black-man thing, just in general having standing and credibility as a relative newcomer. He was somewhat confrontational, but he was also going for a certain reassuring mien, I think.

    Of course, arguably now he's accomplished that outreach/reassurance project. Unanimously everyone agrees that Obama was not rattled or out of his depth. So maybe we'll see a big pivot toward exactly these sorts of things in the economics debate...