29 September 2008

Random debate musings

As the Biden/Palin bloodbath nears, a few thoughts, in paragraph form this time:

Sen. McCain looked thoroughly unprepared during the first 40 minutes of Friday's debate. His responses were peppered with his recycled stump-speech lines, and he played defense poorly. His campaign must come up with a way to respond to Obama's argument that McCain's tax policies only favor the rich. Right next to the change/hope vagueries, this is at the crux of Obama's campaign. If McCain isn't able to do that, winning in November will be awful tough.

Against Mitt Romney, McCain looked smooth, wise, experienced and in control. As clear as his disdain is for Obama, he certainly did not care for Romney either. Against Obama, however, McCain so dislikes his opponent that he appears frowning, aggravated, bothered and unpresidential. Someone needs to show him a tape of himself.

I might have been wrong last week when I called for McCain to go to Washington. I certainly didn't expect Obama to follow him, and clearly, the candidates' appearance did little good. Let's be blunt here: The point of going to Washington should not have been to actually do anything substantive -- it should have been to draw distinctions between the Changemaker's rhetoric of nonsense and McCain's proven record of bipartisan leadership. Obama likely wouldn't have returned to the Beltway had President Bush not invited him to a negotiating session with congressional and White House decision-makers. Such a meeting was a strategic error by the GOP. Given how ill-prepared McCain was for the first 40 minutes Friday night, perhaps it was a bad decision to cancel his debate preparation.

That said, take a look at the political landscape. The GOP brand is at its most toxic in a generation; the president has approval ratings that have sat around 30; the current Congress, of which McCain is a visible leader, has accomplished nothing of significance; McCain himself just turned 72; and his opponent is a brilliant orator who enjoys supposedly broad admiration across races, classes and parties. The fact that McCain is still very much alive in the race with five weeks to go is nothing short of remarkable.

Speaking of the Hopemonger, as recently as February 2008, he noted that cranking up taxes on the middle class -- specifically, on earners making as little as $42,000 -- was good policy. Now, he's decided that anyone earning under $250,000 won't see a single dime added to their tax burden.

Former Reagan/Huckabee adviser and current CNN analyst Ed Rollins summed up the candidates' debate performances succinctly: McCain looked like a cranky old professor, and Obama looked like a verbose, self-absorbed academic.

I took umbrage with much of the Palin-bashing initially. But now, I agree with those who criticize the McCain campaign for sheltering her from virtually every extemporaneous encounter with reporters. She's an immensely popular governor with tremendous political skills. She certainly isn't qualified for the office she seeks, but then, neither is Obama. Palin has gone from an upstart shot in the arm to a sheltered caricature. Team Maverick needs to unleash her.

But as my opening sentence noted, I think she'll get slaughtered on Thursday.

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